The word essay comes from French for “to try.” Many, perhaps because of getting assigned lame essays in high school (though none of my teacher friends do that, thank God! 🙂 ), think of essay writing as a tedious rehashings of things we’ve already learned. However, the true spirit of the essay is to use writing to try to reach for an understanding that is just beyond our grasp. We maybe be relooking at some things we already know, but we are also exploring new thoughts, memories we want to pull more from, new research we are compiling, or a number of other thoughts we are trying to get onto paper to calculate and weigh.
The basic idea of essaying is we are searching for a vein of thought to follow and mine—we are digging into what we know and what we are learning to try to discover something fresh and new—something others will also be blessed by when we share it.
Writing is thinking
Essay writing is thus to take an inkling of an idea, set everything we know about it to paper, research further and try to synthesize that new information into clear and concise prose, and then keep digging until we have struck gold. It is to take the thread of one idea from beginning to end. To write an essay in this way is to explore, to fathom, to pray, to seek, to ask the big questions, to debate both sides of an issue, and to continue the journey until we have turned that inkling into a complete and articulate idea.
Certainly we write to teach and share what we know—but at the same time I don’t know anyone who has written a book that hasn’t grown tremendously in the process. I also believe there is a divine connection to what we write about. Even though I’ve spent a lot of time writing for others on assignment, when my kids were hitting their teen years, I found myself doing a number of parenting books; as I was organizing our business, I worked on a financial book; and oddly enough, before my father had a heart attack, I did a book on combatting heart disease. It was strange to spend time with him in the hospital and watch my brother, sister, and their spouses leafing through the pages of it in the hope of learning what they needed to know to stave off the heart disease that was part of our family history.
It’s not about knowing what to write
Not everything I write is meant to be published. Each of us needs to recognize that we first write for an audience of one—ourselves. There is gold in the words we put to paper, and it is first there for us to learn and grow from.
Beyond that, sometimes it is great to share it and bless others. Writing also helps us feed our knowledge and experience into others so that they might learn from our successes, think more clearly themselves, or hopefully, avoid some of our mistakes.
I guess the long and short of it is that more often than not, I am not writing to tell something as much as flesh out an idea or discover something for myself, even if I am writing as someone else. Quite often, especially at the beginning of a new book, I find myself writing to figure out what I am writing about.
Have you ever done that?